The Yankees have had some of the best hitters in baseball history and seemingly countless historic batting accomplishments throughout the history of the franchise. Yet despite the home run records, the Triple Crowns and the consecutive game hit streak, somewhat surprisingly up to 2011, no Yankee had ever reached the historic milestone of 3,000 hits.
A combination of circumstances not working in their favor prevented Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Mickey Mantle from getting over the 3,000 hit mountain. In their mid-twenties, both Joe DiMaggio and Don Mattingly looked poised to make a run at the milestone but a litany of obstacles impeded their respective journeys as well. As a result (and at the risk of understating the obvious) when fan favorite and team captain Derek Jeter entered the 2011 season needing 74 hits to become the first Yankee to reach the 3,000 mark, it was a pretty big deal.
Date of Game: July 9, 2011
Final Score: Yankees 5, Rays 4
Game MVP: Derek Jeter
The Tampa Bay Rays came into the Bronx for a three-game series in early July of 2011 and took the first game from the home team behind a strong performance from starting pitcher Jeff Niemann. Yet in the midst of the solid effort, Niemann did surrender a double to Jeter for the Captain’s 2,998th career hit. Consequently, Jeter would head into action on July 9th needing two hits to become only the 28th MLB player and first Yankee to reach 3,000 hits. To paraphrase former Yankee broadcaster Ken Singleton, he’d have to get them off a brand name, as AL All-Star and future Cy Young award winner David Price would be on the hill for the Rays.
Of all the accolades Yankees fans can use when discussing Jeter, his complete inability to disappoint us is at or near the top of the list, and this day would be no different. He wasted zero time on his quest, singling through the third base-shortstop hole in his first at-bat against Price for hit number 2,999. After a second inning home run from Matt Joyce off of Yankees starter A.J. Burnett gave the Rays a 1-0 lead, Jeter came to the plate with one out in the bottom of the third for his second at-bat of the day and his first with a crack at 3,000.
Again, the man was incapable of disappointing us. At exactly 2 p.m., the player wearing uniform No. 2 made history.
Jeter’s solo shot off of a 3-2 Price breaking ball tied the game and put Jeter in the record books as the 28th MLB player and first Yankee to record 3,000 hits (and only the second to do it with a long ball). Yet, despite the well-deserved and extended ovation, laudatory remarks, hugs from teammates, and tips of the cap from the Rays, a game still needed to be played. As things stood, the Yankees were still one game behind the Red Sox in the AL East and only four in front of the Rays.
A Russel Martin RBI single would give the Yanks a 2-1 lead that would be relinquished shortly thereafter as B.J. Upton took Burnett deep for a two-run blast, giving the Rays a 3-2 lead. That’s where the score stood when Jeter came to the plate leading off the bottom of the fifth inning with Price still on the hill. As one would expect, Jeter was not about to sit on his laurels and phone the rest of the day in, as he lined a Price offering down the left-field line for a leadoff double for career hit number 3,001 and number three on the afternoon. He’d score moments later on a Curtis Granderson single to tie the game at three, and Robinson Cano would add a sacrifice fly later in the inning to give the Yanks a 4-3 lead. The Captain had already had himself a day, but little did we know it was just getting started.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning with the Yanks still up by one, and Brett Gardner on first base, Jeter lined his fourth hit of the day into right field. A double steal from Gardner and Jeter put the Yankees in a position to really give themselves some breathing room heading into the late innings, but Granderson struck out to end the threat and the inning. Just as well, as no one else was going to be the hero on this day.
The Yankees were in good hands as they handed the 4-3 lead to David Robertson in the eighth inning, with Mariano Rivera poised to close it out in the ninth. Yet, again to paraphrase Ken Singleton, the players in the other dugout are pretty good too. Old friend Johnny Damon led off the frame with a triple and scored soon thereafter on a Ben Zobrist RBI single, tying the game at four runs apiece. Although Robertson would retire Evan Longoria, Upton, and Joyce to end the threat, the damage had been done — but the stage had also been set.
In addition to the inability to disappoint us, another Derek Jeter habit was the proclivity to do something great that made our jaws drop, then respond with something along the lines of “…but I’m not done yet.” That was certainly the case on this day as Eduardo Núñez led off the bottom of the eighth with a double, then moved to third base on a Brett Gardner sacrifice bunt. This brought Jeter — who had already made history and was already 4-for-4 in an important divisional game — to the plate with the go-ahead run 90 feet away. Once again, he didn’t disappoint as he grounded a single up the middle through a drawn-in infield to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead. After an 11-pitch, typically ho-hum, one, two, three inning from Rivera in the ninth, the Yankees had a 5-4 win.
The Yankees have had some incredible games over the past 25 years, and Derek Jeter had some incredible moments in pinstripes. Any one of the individual parts of this game that were amazing would have been memorable by themselves, but the sum of its parts puts this game on the shortlist of best Derek Jeter memories for Yankees fans.